Women leaders - Deacons

SERMON TOPIC: Women leaders - Deacons

Speaker: Gavin Paynter

Language: ENGLISH

Date: 26 May 2019


Sermon synopsis: Do women have a role to play as deacons? Are there any female deacons mentioned in Scripture?

Rom 16:1 (KJV) I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant [diakonos] of the church which is at Cenchrea…

In many English translations (KJV, ESV, NASB), Phoebe is called the “servant” of the church at Cenchrea in Greece, but the Greek word 'diakonos” is exactly the same translated as “deacon” elsewhere (when the context is about men).
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They also prayed (1 Sam 1:12), played music and sang there (Psalm 68:24-25, 1 Chron 25:5-6).

In the tabernacle

there were “women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting” (Ex 38:8).


But things had changed by Jesus’ day. Women were separated from men in private, public and religious life.

In synagogues women were separated from the men and were not permitted to read aloud. They could go to the Temple in Jerusalem, but were restricted to the Women’s Court. There was no such court mentioned in the Biblical descriptions of Solomon’s Temple.


In Jesus’ day:

1) A women’s place was in the home.

2) Women were not to be taught the Torah.

3) Men were not supposed to speak with women in public.

4) Women were regarded as inherently sinful.

5) Women were not allowed to bear witness in court.

But Jesus defies these social norms:

1) Jesus accepts women leaving their households to join his ministry team.

2) He teaches women.

3) He engages and speaks with women in public.

4) Jesus defends the women of ill-repute.

5) He uses them as his initial witnesses to his resurrection.

In a long list of greetings in Romans 16, one third of those he greets by name are women. There are 10 women that Paul referred to - including a deacon who was his benefactor, an outstanding apostle, a dear friend, a co-worker (i.e. an equal), hard workers for the Lord and one he considered to be a mother. 1

Paul refers to some of his closest associates (e.g. Timothy, Titus, Luke, Mark) as “co-workers”. Paul also applies this term to several women.

The most notable of his female co-workers is Priscilla and Paul not only mentions before her husband – he places her at the top of his list in Romans 16. 2

1 He extends greeting to the mother of Rufus who he says “has been a mother to me, too” (v. 13). 1 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. (v.3)


When most had deserted him in Rome at the trial before his execution, Paul sends greetings from four named people, one of whom is Claudia.

The Biblical teaches equality of worth for male and female. The apostle Paul was not a woman-hating misogynist 1 as some have portrayed him. He writes to the Galatians:

Gal 3:28 (NIV) There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

That means that as Christians and in in the church - there is no place for racism, elitism, class distinction or sexism. We are all equal in Christ.

1 i.e. a person who dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against women.


Our Statement of Faith (under the section “CHURCH: LEADERSHIP) reads:

We believe that there are only two officers in a local New Testament church namely elders and deacons.

Phil 1:1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers (Greek: episkopos) and deacons (Greek: diakonos)…

The word deacon is derived from the Greek word diakonos (διάκονος), which means “servant”, “minister” or “an administrator”.


Deacons assist the church by attending to physical, administrative matters.

In a modern church, a deacon’s duties might include:

Charitable work

Administrative or organizational tasks

Maintenance of buildings and grounds

Overseeing financial matters and collecting tithes

Preparing and serving communion

Operating audio and visual equipment


Opening/closing the church

Preparing and setting up the hall or rooms for services or events

Catering, kitchen duties

Cleaning the church

Caring for children and babies

Parking-lot attendants and security

Musicians and singers

While performing the above functions doesn’t automatically make someone a deacon, they are typical of the duties that a deacon would fulfil.



SOURCE: Pew Research Centre, Pentecostal Church of God, General Council of the Assemblies of God, New York Times, Disciples of Christ

Catholic, Orthodox and the Eastern churches are steadfast in their refusal to allow women into the clergy, as indeed, are many Protestant churches. This includes the appointment of female deacons.

Yet we’ll see from church history that the early church had a strong tradition of deaconesses.

In 2016 the current Roman Catholic Pope Francis told the heads of women’s religious orders from around the world that he would set up an official commission to study the New Testament deaconesses and to study the question of whether women could be admitted to the diaconate.


But on the question of ordaining women to the diaconate, the Catholic Herald UK (8 May 2019) reported that while Pope Francis “did not give a definitive ‘No’ on the issue, he did make it clear that the commission he appointed three years ago to study the matter had not reached any sort of consensus, and that action at this time or in the near future is off the table.” 1

1 https:// catholicherald.co.uk/ commentandblogs/ 2019/ 05/ 08/ has-pope-francis-just-ruled-out-women-deacons/

Pope Francis

The World Assemblies of God Fellowship is a group of over 140 autonomous but loosely associated national groupings of churches, which form the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination. What is the A/G (US) position on this issue?

Women’s role in ministry: The A/G affirms the ministry of women in the church and allows them to be ordained and serve in pastoral roles. 1

What of female deacons?

The A/G US policy is: “At the discretion of the local congregation, a female meeting other stated qualifications may be selected to serve as a deaconess”. 2

1 https:// en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ Assemblies_of_God_USA 2 https:// ag.org/ Beliefs/ Position-Papers/ Qualifications-and-Responsibilities-of-Deacons-and-Trustees


On the Day of Pentecost, Peter saw in the event the fulfilment of the prophecy of Joel 2:28.

Pentecostals believe that while this outpouring of the Spirit on both men and women applied in the Apostolic Age, it has a special and more complete fulfilment in the Pentecostal movement spawned in the early 20th century.


In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy… Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:16-18 NIV)

Last time we noted an excerpt from the A/G US Position Paper on “The Role of Women in Ministry”:

The Assemblies of God has been blessed and must continue to be blessed by the ministry of God’s gifted and commissioned daughters. The Bible repeatedly affirms that God pours out His Spirit upon both men and women and thereby gifts both sexes for ministry in His Church. Therefore, we must continue to affirm the gifts of women in ministry and spiritual leadership. Surely, the enormous challenge of the Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) requires the full deployment of all God’s Spirit-gifted ministers, both men and women. 1

1 https:// ag.org/ Beliefs/ Position-Papers/ The-Role-of-Women-in-Ministry


Some attempt to draw analogies between appointing woman pastors / elders and the ordination of gays, claiming that we are simply caving in to pressure from feminists and the demands of a modern liberal society.

This is not true. Homosexuality is a sin (1 Cor 6:9) - being a woman is not! One can find numerous cases of women operating in this role in the Bible and Church history. The same cannot be said about homosexuals.

George Wood, former General Superintendent of the General Council of the A/G in the US (2007-2017), posed the question “Have we capitulated to the liberal culture by credentialing 5,225 women of our 32,304 credentialed ministers (16.17%), and by having 387 women pastors among our 12,055 churches (3.21%)?”


He notes:

The Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Orlando, Florida, in June 2000, excluded women from the office of pastor… Many Southern Baptists explained their action as a move to counter liberal culture. Christianity Today quoted Mike Whitehead, interim president at Midwestern Baptist Seminary: “It is not news that God assigned roles in the home and in the church. This principle is not a cultural relic but a divine order. Most Baptists are pretty squeamish about tinkering with the words of God.” Where does this leave the Assemblies of God? By permitting the ordination of women and permitting women to pastor, are we tinkering with the words of God? 1

1 http:// enrichmentjournal.ag.org/ 200102/ 008_exploring.cfm


Wood then qualifies his intent in writing an article defending the A/G position of ordaining women by saying, “My purpose is not to denounce the Southern Baptists. I have great respect and admiration for what they have done to advance the cause of Jesus Christ. My reason for referring to them is to surface the hard question that is often asked the Assemblies of God. The Southern Baptists, along with some believers inside and outside our Movement, assert that permitting women every role in ministry available to men violates Scripture. As Pentecostals, we’d better have an answer to that. And, we do.” 1

1 Ibid.


George O. Wood

Many NT women carried out a ministry of service even if they are not explicitly referred to as deacons.

Consider Dorcas in Joppa, who “was always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36). On her death all the widows stood around Peter, “crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them” (9:39).


Then we have Lydia, who extended hospitality to Paul and his missionary companions in Philippi (Acts 16:15). And in Rome we had Tryphena and Tryphosa, described as “those women who work hard in the Lord” (Rom 16:12).

The conclusion is that, whatever title they are given, women have always been deeply involved in the service and mercy ministries of the church.


Are there any female deacons mentioned in Scripture?

Rom 16:1 (KJV) I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant [diakonos] of the church which is at Cenchrea…

In many English translations (KJV, ESV, NASB), Phoebe is called the “servant” of the church at Cenchrea (a village in the municipality of Corinth in Greece), but the Greek word “diakonos” is exactly the same translated as “deacon” elsewhere (when the context is about men).


The KJV translates diakonos as “deacon” 3 times (Phil 1:1, 1 Tim 3:8,12), as “servant” 7 times (including the reference to Phoebe) and as “minister” 20 times. The Greek word originally simply meant “servant” but later came to be used in a technical sense to denote an office in the church. One has to ascertain from the context whether it is being used in the technical sense or in the older sense.

There is some debate about whether Paul is saying that Phoebe was a “deacon” in the church or whether he is simply using the word in the older sense to mean someone known for her helpfulness and service to the church.

The International Standard Version renders the passage:

Rom 16:1 Now I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess in the church at Cenchrea.


Again some might make the accusation that this is simply modern liberal reinterpretation of Scripture.

But Phoebe was certainly regarded as a deacon by the early Church, as can be seen from a 4th-century Greek inscription marking the resting place of another deaconess. On a broken stone on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, it reads:

“Here lies the slave and bride of Christ, Sophia, deacon, the second Phoebe, who fell asleep in Christ.”


The early Christian writer, Origen (185-255) also writes:

I commend to you Phoebe... This passage teaches by apostolic authority that women also are appointed in the ministry of the church, in which office Phoebe was placed at the church that is in Cenchreae. Paul with great praise and commendation even enumerates her splendid deeds... And therefore this passage teaches two things equally and is to be interpreted, as we have said, to mean that women are to be considered ministers in the church, and that such ought to be received into the ministry who have assisted many; they have earned the right through their good deeds to receive apostolic praise. 1

1 Commentary on Romans 10.17 as preserved in Latin by Rufinus (345-410)


Under the title “The-Role-of-Women-in-Ministry”, in its Position-Papers on Beliefs, the website of the US Assembly of God states:

Phoebe, a leader in the church at Cenchrea, was highly commended to the church at Rome by Paul (Romans 16:1,2). Unfortunately, translation biases have often obscured Phoebe’s position of leadership, calling her a “servant” (NIV, NASB, ESV). Yet Phoebe was diakonos of the church at Cenchrea. Paul regularly used this term for a minister or leader of a congregation and applied it specifically to Jesus Christ, Tychicus, Epaphras, Timothy, and to his own ministry. Depending on the context, diakonos is usually translated “deacon” or “minister.”

The same article points out the following about the next verse where Paul states that Phoebe “has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well” (NASB).

Moreover, a number of translations reflect similar biases by referring to Phoebe as having been a “great help” (NIV) or “helper” (NASB) of many, including Paul himself (Romans 16:2). The Greek term here is prostatis, better translated by the NRSV as “benefactor” with its overtones of equality and leadership. 1

The ESV renders it as “for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well”.

1 https:// ag.org/ Beliefs/ Position-Papers/ The-Role-of-Women-in-Ministry


The latest NIV version (2011) renders the passage on Phoebe as follows:

Rom 16:1-2 (NIV, 2011) I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.

Because of Paul’s recommendation, it is assumed she was on official church business and delivered his letter to the Romans.

Rom 16:1 (GOD’S WORD® Translation) With this letter I’m introducing Phoebe to you. She is our sister in the Christian faith and a deacon of the church in the city of Cenchrea.

Female deacons in the church are mentioned by Pliny the Younger in a letter to the emperor Trajan dated c. 112. 1 At the time of writing Pliny was governor of Pontus/ Bithynia (from 111-113 AD). This indicates that in the early 2nd century this Roman province had female deacons. These deacons were tortured and interrogated by the authorities regarding Christian beliefs. Pliny writes:

I believed it was necessary to find out from two female slaves (ex duabus ancillis) who were called deacons (ministrae), what was true—and to find out through torture (per tormenta)…

The Latin word “ministrae” seems to be a translation of “diakonos” since it is the word which the Vulgate uses to translate “diakonos” in Romans 16.


Gary Macy from the National Catholic Reporter writes:

The existence of the order of women deacons in Christian tradition is not, and should not be, in dispute. What, then, did these women deacons do? Not surprisingly, they played different roles in different times and places. This is true of all of the orders in the church. Church structure has changed throughout history to meet to the needs of the time. The roles that all these women held in common seem to have been the reading of the Gospel, preaching and teaching. Some played liturgical roles, particularly in the East. These roles paralleled the roles played by male deacons and that is why, of course, the women were called deacons at all. One was not likely to call them deacons unless they did what deacons do. 1

1 https:// www.ncronline.org/ news/ theology/ women-deacons-history


In the Syrian Didascalia (late 3rd century) women deacons are regarded as necessary for ministry to women, in particular assisting with baptism of women (by immersion) and subsequent instruction to new women converts.

In the first place, when women go down into the water, those who go down into the water ought to be anointed by a deaconess with the oil of anointing… And when she who is being baptized has come up from the water, let the deaconess receive her, and teach and instruct her how the seal of baptism ought to be (kept) unbroken in purity and holiness. 1

1 Chapter xvi, On the appointment of deacons and deaconesses. [iii. 12]


Women deacons were regarded as important and their ministry also included assistance to the sick.

For this cause we say that the ministry of a woman deacon is especially needful and important. For our Lord and Saviour also was ministered unto by women ministers, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the daughter of James and mother of Jose, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee [Mt 27.56], with other women beside. And thou also hast need of the ministry of a deaconess for many things; for a deaconess is required to go into the houses of the heathen where there are believing women, and to visit those who are sick, and to minister to them in that of which they have need, and to bathe those who have begun to recover from sickness. 1

1 Ibid.


Women deacons are also mentioned in the Captions of the Arabic Canons which are attributed to the Council of Nice Council of Nicea in 325. Canon LXXIV speaks of “the election of deaconesses, and of their duties and utility”.

At the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451) an earlier minimal age of 60 years for women deacons was relaxed to 40 years. 1

Generally the office of deaconess flourished more in the Eastern church than in the West.

1 “Canon 21: “A Woman shall not be ordained [ Greek original: not receive the laying on of hands] as a deaconess under forty years of age, and then only after searching examination…


Around 404-407AD, John Chrysostom (the Archbishop of Constantinople) writes to “Pentadia, deaconess” in Egypt. 1

Olympias, one of the closest friends and supporters of the Chrysostom, was known as an influential deaconess during the 5th century. She supported the church with gifts of land and her wealth. 2

Chrysostom described the order of deaconesses to be “necessary and useful and honourable in the Church.” 2

1 Letters 94, 104, 185 2 https:// en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ Deaconess 3 “Homilies on the Epistles of St. Paul the Apostle to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon”


The Apostolic Canons is a 4th century Syrian Christian text. The role of deaconesses presented here is similar to that in the Didascalia. An ordination formula, is given:

“Thou shalt lay thy hands upon her in the presence of the presbyters, the deacons and the deaconesses saying: Thou who didst fill Deborah, Hannah and Hulda with the Holy Spirit, thou who in the Temple didst appoint women to keep the holy doors, 1 look upon thy servant chosen for the ministry (diakonia), and give to her the Holy Spirit that she may worthily perform the office committed unto her.” 1

1 The women keeping the holy doors is a reference to the “women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting” in the OT (Ex 38:8).


Epiphanius of Salamis (315-403) writes of deaconesses performing functions for other females for the sake of decency - in connection with baptism, or women who were ill and whose bodies required examination. 1

The Apostolic Constitutions (4th century) 1 also notes that for propriety it is better to use woman ministers to women.

Ordain also a deaconess who is faithful and holy, for the ministrations towards women. For sometimes he cannot send a deacon, who is a man, to the women, on account of unbelievers. You shall therefore send a woman, a deaconess, on account of the imaginations of the bad. 2

1 Its purpose is to preserve decency for the female sex, whether in connection with baptism or in connection with the examination of [women undergoing] suffering or pain, or whenever the bodies of women are required to be uncovered, so that they need not be seen by the men officiating, but only by the deaconess… 2 Bk 3, Sect 2


Like deacons, it says the deaconess must be “ready to carry messages, to travel about, to minister, and to serve”. 1 It attributes to deaconesses the duties of:

distribution of charity

acting as porters at the doors for women

ushering - finding female worshippers - “whether poor or rich” - a seat.

acting as intermediaries between the clergy and the women of the congregation.

We see the idea now that the deaconess should “be a pure virgin; or, at the least, a widow who has been but once married, faithful, and well esteemed.” 2

1 Book 3, Section 2, XIX 2 Book VI, Section 3 XVII.


A Byzantine period inscription from the province of Palaestina Tertia reads: “Here was placed the blessed Nonna deacon …” Evagrius Ponticus writes (383-397 AD) of “the chaste deacon Severa” of Jerusalem. 1

A fragmentary inscription above the entrance of a burial chamber in the village of Siloam, south of ancient Jerusalem mark the “Tomb of Eneon, daughter of Neoiketes, deaconess in this hospital…”

Egeria writes in (400-417) regarding a trip to Jerusalem:

I found there a very dear friend of mine named Marthana, a holy deaconess (diaconissa) whom I had met in Jerusalem, where she had come to pray, to whose way of life all in the East bore testimony. 2

1 Letters (7.2, 8.2, 19.2, 20) 2 Pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre 23.3


The heresy of Priscillianism attracted many Spanish women in the 4th century. The church’s response, at the First Council of Saragossa (380), was to oppose women in any kind of leadership role. 1

In Gaul, in the 5th and 6th centuries some regional councils sought to abolish the office of deaconess. 2 This effort apparently met with limited success, judging by the need to continuously reiterate the pronouncements.

1 Carl A. Volz, Pastoral Life and Practice in the Early Church (Augsburg, 1990), 200. 2 Synod of Orange (441), Canon 26: “Deaconesses are absolutely not to be ordained; and if there are still any of them, let them bow their head under the benediction which is given to the congregation.” Synod of Epaon (517), canon 21: “We completely suppress throughout our territory the consecration of those widows who are often called deaconesses.” Second Council of Orléans (533): “It has been decided that henceforth no woman may any longer receive diaconal benediction, due to the frailty of her sex.”


In the 6th century Emperor Justinian’s wife, Theodora, had a profound influence on him resulting in the improved legal status of women in Byzantine legislation.

First, [the deaconesses] should be of right age, neither too young at the fullness of passion, vulnerable to making false steps, but already well into life, about fifty years old, according to the sacred canons. Thus they can arrive at sacred ordination, whether they are virgins or have been married to one man. We do not allow those married twice or those of notorious life or under any suspicion to approach the sacred diaconate to administer baptism to those who present themselves and to participate in other secret rites and most sacred mysteries that they are accustomed to practice. 1

1 Novellae 6.6


In spite of the hostility in the West, we still find mention of deaconesses. E.g. Remigius of Reims (533) mentions in his last will “my blessed daughter, Helaria the deaconess”.

In the East, at the time of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (d. 565) the deaconesses still held a position of importance. The staff at the church of St. Sophia in Constantinople included 100 deacons and 40 deaconesses.

The Council of Trullo, convoked in Constantinople in 692 AD, re-affirmed the minimum age set by the Council of Chalcedon for women deacons. 1

Female deacons are even mentioned in legal documents such as the Theodosian Code (312-438) and the Code of Justinian (529-565).

1 http:// womenpriests.org/ women-deacons/ church-councils-on-women-deacons


Early 6th-century funerary inscription of the Byzantine period in Wadi Kilt, between Jerusalem and Jericho:

Here lies Anastasia deacon, in the month of February 27, in the 11th Indiction.

7th-century inscription from Mahaiy, Moab (present-day Jordan).

Here lies deacon Maria daughter of Valens who lived thirty-eight years and died in the year 538 1 [643- 644 AD].

1 According to the Arabian calendar starting from Trajan’s establishment of the province in 105/106, 538 equates to 643-44 AD.


By the 8th century, Bishop Egbert of York was still including material related to female deacons in his liturgical books. Euphemia was consecrated as a deaconess at Ravenna in 753, and female deacons were in the crowds that welcomed Pope Leo III back to Rome in 799. 1

As late as 1018 Pope Benedict VIII signed off on the Bishop of Porto’s right to ordain female deacons, and John XIX extended the same courtesy to the Bishop of Silva Candida in 1026. 1

The ministry of deaconesses eventually disappeared in the West and declined in the East for a number of centuries, but it was revived in the Lutheran Church in the 19th century.

1 https:// catholicherald.co.uk/ magazine/ a-brief-history-of-deaconesses


While giving the qualifications for deacons, Paul states:

1 Tim 3:8-11 (KJV) Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives [gynai] be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.

The above passage raises the question:

Why would there be qualifications given for deacon’s wives, when none are given for elders wives?


However the word translated “wives” in some versions (gynai) can simply be a generic term for women. Gynai is translated as “women” several times in 1 Tim 2:9-12.

This has caused many to take the position that in the context, the passage actually refers to the qualifications of female deacons. Some reason that if the Bible meant “wives” we might expect it to say “their wives” so as to eliminate any possibility of confusion.

Thus the NASB simply renders the verse:

1 Tim 3:11 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.


The NIV also uses the term “the women” and adds the footnote with “deaconesses” as a more explicit alternative.

The Weymouth New Testament goes further:

Deaconesses, in the same way, must be sober-minded women, not slanderers, but in every way temperate and trustworthy.

Proponents of the “women / deaconesses” rendering argue that no criteria are given for the wives of elders, so why would Scripture dictate any requirements for deacon’s wives.


This is not a recent idea due to the influence of the women’s liberation movement. The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary published in 1871 agrees 1 as does the distinguished English Christian theologian Charles John Ellicott (1819–1905). 2

1 11. their wives—rather, “the women,” that is, the deaconesses. For there is no reason that special rules should be laid down as to the wives of the deacons, and not also as to the wives of the bishops or overseers. Moreover, if the wives of the deacons were meant, there seems no reason for the omission of “their” (not in the Greek). Also the Greek for “even so” (the same as for “likewise,” 1Ti 3:8, and “in like manner,” 1Ti 2:9), denotes a transition to another class of persons… Naturally after specifying the qualifications of the deacon, Paul passes to those of the kindred office, the deaconess. 2 (11) Even so must their wives…—The position of this solitary charge, respecting deacons’ wives, in the midst of regulations concerning “deacons,” is, of itself, almost decisive against the translation of the English version, adopted also by Luther and many others. The question naturally occurs—why are deacon’s wives especially referred to, while nothing has been said respecting the wives of presbyters?


Ellicott points out that John Chrysostom (a 5th century Christian in Constantinople, whose native tongue was Greek) believed that Paul was referring to deaconesses. 1

Chrysostom (344-407) wrote:

Ver. 11. Even so must the women be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Some have thought that this is said of women generally, but it is not so, for why should he introduce anything about women to interfere with his subject? He is speaking of those who hold the rank of Deaconesses. 2

1 Ibid. - The literal translation of the Greek words would be, Women in like manner must, &c. These women, St. Chrysostom and most of the ancient expositors affirm, were deaconesses. It is certain that there were women holding a kind of official position as deaconesses in the early Church… 2 Homily 11.1


And even earlier Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215) says:

We also know the instructions about women deacons [διακονών γυναικών] which are given by the noble Paul in his other letter, the one to Timothy [1 Timothy 3,11].”

The Expositor’s Greek Testament (19th century) notes that “Women in like manner must…” is also not simply a set of instructions to “women in general” or to the “wives of the deacons” - but to deaconesses. 1

1 These are the deaconesses, ministrae (Pliny, Ep. x. 97) of whom Phoebe (Romans 16:1) is an undoubted example… In confirmation of this view it should be noted that ὡσαύτως is used in introducing a second or third member of a series… The series here is of Church officials… And further, this is a section dealing wholly with Church officials. These considerations exclude the view that women in general, as R.V. apparently, are spoken of. If the wives of the deacons or of the clergy were meant, as A.V., it would be natural to have it unambiguously expressed, e.g., by the addition of αὐτῶν.


The Pulpit Commentary (19th century) agrees:

Verse 11 … What is meant by these “women”? Certainly not women in general, which would be quite out of harmony with the context. The choice lies between

(1) the wives of the deacons, as in the A.V.; (2) the wives of the episcopi and deacons; (3) deaconesses.

This last, on the whole, is the most probable. The male deacons had just been spoken of, and so the apostle goes on to speak of the female deacons (at διάκονοι, Romans 16:1).


Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (publ. 1882+):

11. Even so must their wives be grave] The R.V. translates literally Women in like manner must be grave, i.e. women deacons, favouring the general view of the earliest commentators, as Chrysostom and Theod. Mops.,’ mulieres quae diaconis officium implere statuuntur,’ and the latest, as Bps Wordsworth and Ellicott. Fairbairn gives well the reasons; ‘the mode of expression “likewise” apparently marking a transition to another class (as at 1 Timothy 3:8, 1 Timothy 2:9; Titus 2:3; Titus 2:6); also the absence of the article or the pronoun to connect the women with the men spoken of before; the mention only of qualifications for deacon work, while nothing is said of those more directly bearing on domestic duties.’


The 1 Tim 3:8-11 passage is rendered as follows in the NASB. Note the contrast between v10 and v11 in the context of deacons (v8): “these men must” and “women must”.

8 Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, 9 but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. 11 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.

Hence the qualifications given are for deaconesses, not deacon’s wives. The said qualifications are:


Worthy of respect (NIV), grave (KJV), dignified (ESV, NASB).

Greek: semnos - reverend, venerable, serious, honourable, serious, dignified, grave.

Ellicott’s Commentary: Be grave.—The same word is used as in the case of the deacons. These deaconesses, too, must, with their modest behaviour, with their sweet, decorous gravity… “inspire reverence…”

This isn’t to say that a person cannot have a sense of humour. But they must have a reverence for God that is evident by their actions and speech. They must be respected by the congregation.


Not malicious talkers (NIV), not slanderers (ESV, KJV), not malicious gossips (NASB).

Slander is the utterance of false charges or misrepresentations which defame and damage another’s reputation.

In the Greek, “slanderers” is “diabolous” - the root of the English word “Devil”.

Matthew Poole’s Commentary: Not slanderers; not devils, (so it is in the Greek), that is, persons given to railing and accusing others.


Temperate (NIV, NASB), sober-minded (ESV), sober (KJV).

Greek: néphalios – sober, not intoxicated (with wine), temperate, vigilant.

Similar to the deacon’s “not indulging in much wine” (1 Tim 3:8).


Another of the early Greek Fathers, Theodoret of Cyrrhus (c. 393-460) notes the similarity between the qualifications of deacons and deaconesses:

In the same way, women” that is, the deacons, “are to be serious, not irresponsible talkers, sober, faithful in everything.” What he directed for the men, he did similarly for the women. Just as he told the male deacons to be serious, he said the same for the women. As he commanded the men not to be two-faced, so he commanded the women not to talk irresponsibly. And as he commanded the men not to drink much wine, so he ordered the women should be temperate. 1

1 Commentary on 1 Timothy


Trustworthy in everything (NIV), faithful in all things (ESV, NASB, KJV).

Greek: pistos - faithful, reliable, trustworthy.

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary: faithful in all things—of life as well as faith. Trustworthy in respect to the alms committed to them and their other functions, answering to “not greedy of filthy lucre,” 1Ti 3:8, in the case of the deacons.


Regarding these qualifications of deaconesses, The Expositor’s Greek Testament (1897) similarly notes:

Again, the four qualifications which follow correspond, with appropriate variations, to the first four required in deacons, as regards demeanour, government of the tongue, use of wine, and trustworthiness.

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary concurs:

“Grave” occurs in the case of both. “Not slanderers” here, answers to “not double-tongued” in the deacons; so “not false accusers” (Tit 2:3). “Sober” here answers to “not given to much wine,” in the case of the deacons (1Ti 3:8). Thus it appears he requires the same qualifications in female deacons as in deacons, only with such modifications as the difference of sex suggested.


The verse that follows thus applies to both male and female deacons, indicating that there is an advantage to those who are faithful to their ministry.

1 Tim 3:13 (NASB) For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

(NLT) Those who do well as deacons will be rewarded with respect from others and will have increased confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus.


Marg Mowczko says:

The church is weaker and the world is poorer for not allowing appropriately gifted Christian women, women such as Priscilla, to lead. 1

1 https:// margmowczko.com/ elders-in-new-testament


When God said “it is not good for the man to be alone”, he was referring not just to companionship, but to all areas of life – including the successful operation of a church.


Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations are taken from the NIV: THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission. ( Lockman.org)

Scripture quotations are taken from the ESV: Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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